Steampunk Wrist Candy

SAM_1245

Well, I’ve had “craftsman” in my Twitter bio for long enough that I should probably post some crafts online. It’s also been a whole year since the screen of my battered old LCD watch started periodically fading to a clean grey slate, so I think this post is overdue in more ways than one. So here it is: my steampunk wristwatch.

While some effort went into picking a watch that would suit my work, it’s worth noting I haven’t modified the watch itself in any way. All I did was pop off the horrible plastic-leather buckle strap and replace it with something of my own making (which is a really neat project if you fancy having a go yourself). Also, while I say “steampunk,” I’m really not too sure how to describe this thing. “Clockpunk” would seem to be more accurate–it is literally clockwork, after all–but that tends to conjure up images of delicate brass cogs whirring away, while this is a fairly hefty lump of metal on a chainmail band. To me, it looks more medieval, and given the age of the technology involved, that’s not too far off the mark.

The watch has a skeleton dial, and there’s an acrylic panel on the back, so you can see all the gubbins ticking over inside. It’s a manual mechanical watch, meaning that there’s no battery: just a spring you wind by hand. It’s also possible to get mechanical watches with an automatic/self-wind movement–featuring a semicircular weight that swings when you move, gradually winding the watch as you wear it–but there’s something nice about knowing that the only energy stored in the watch is what you’ve deliberately fed into it yourself, and the large weight of the winding mechanism would have obscured the gears. Also, the company I ordered this from sent me the wrong one. That was probably the biggest factor, if I’m honest! Since the spring can keep the watch going for almost two days, it’s not too much trouble to wind, and without relying on a mechanism to do it for me, I won’t suddenly find that it’s wound down through lack of motion.

The photos above should also give a pretty good idea of how the strap is put together. You’ll notice that the strip of chain connected to the “bottom” of the watch–the side where the six would be if it didn’t have that stupid “Winner” branding instead–is significantly shorter than the strip connected to the “top” (with the stupid “Winner” logo). That’s so that when I put it on or take it off, with the watch resting on the top of my wrist, the clasp is towards me, where I can easily see and handle it. If both sides of the strap were the same length, the clasp would be right underneath my wrist, making it dig in when I type and generally be really inconvenient (especially to fasten). I’ve made chainmail watch straps before (I actually had one on my last watch for years, since the original snapped) and that’s a problem I ran into right at the beginning. If you haven’t come across these clasps before, it’s essentially two tubes, with one sliding inside the other. It’s definitely not the easiest option, particularly for something that has to be a snug fit around your wrist: I get the impression they’re intended more for bangles or bracelets with beads on stretchy thread. However, since they connect the entire width of one strap to the entire width of the other, and come with four “links” handy to weave the chain into, it’s by far the best option for this kind of project.

Since each individual row of links in the chain is so small, it was possible to tailor it to be just the right size. Obviously it’s not adjustable, but in practice I haven’t found that this is a problem. I never found my last watch getting too tight or too loose, and if I do for some reason suddenly develop He-Man arms, I can always weave in another row of chain. I ordered these links online, but I usually make them myself with a mandrel and a pair of wire cutters: I only outsourced the job this time because online it’s possible to get them saw-cut (so that the cut ends of the links are flat and fit flush together), while my hand-cut links have messy (and surprisingly sharp) edges. Also, I got a batch of 500, and this strap used only 322. Provided I don’t use up the rest in some other project, I should have more than enough lying around to provide the seven or so necessary to loosen up this strap. If you’re interested in trying something like this yourself, the weave is “European 6-in-1,” and the links are stainless steel with a wire diameter of 0.8mm, and an inner diameter (that’s the diameter of the space inside the ring) of 4mm. But if you’ve never woven any chainmail before, I don’t recommend starting with 6-in-1 or stainless steel: the former is pretty confusing, the latter springy and unforgiving.

So there you have it: a steampunk/clockpunk/somethingpunk watch featuring a chainmail strap. Believe it or not, I completed this entire project, start to finish, in a day, and I’m pretty happy with the results. The only thing I’d like to change is the pair of coilled wire components connecting the strap to the watch’s springy pins. They work just fine, but they look a little sloppy. One alternative I’m looking into is to get a couple more tubular clasps and sawing them down so I can slip them over the pins. But even as-is, I feel like this strap makes a vast improvement to the watch as a whole. The one it came with was truly abysmal–a slimy, shiny strip of cheap plastic with pressed-in “stitches” that only drew attention to its flaws–which is a shame given that the watch itself seems amazing for the price (it cost slightly less than the steel for the strap, so in the quite likely event the tiny little mechanism breaks I can always get a replacement). Also, I think there’s something kind of poetic about the combination of watch and chain: a watch like this is just a jumble of brass, steel and synthetic rubies. Individually, none of these parts do anything, but together they form a device that’s been keeping time in much the same form for half a millennium. Similarly, a sheet of chainmail is made up of identical, unremarkable metal rings. One on its own is virtually useless, but hundreds linked together can form a knight’s armour or a butcher’s glove.

And if anybody else is tempted to try something like this, let me know! I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.

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2 comments

    • Damon Wakes

      This in itself wasn’t actually a terribly ambitious project. There are some fiddly steps involved (those watch-connector coils are horrendous to make), but it’s mostly just a matter of learning how any given weave is constructed in the first place. It does take several hours to actually join up the links, though! I do it while watching TV.

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